Coming off the back of 2017’s blockbuster album Divide, Ed Sheeran has spent much of the past two years on the road playing to sold out stadia around the world, including two nights at Hong Kong’s Disneyland a few months ago. And this long-haul stint of touring (which was briefly put on hold due to a broken wrist in late 2017) has wormed its way into a lot of the lyrics on his latest release, No. 6 Collaborations Project, which sees Teddy working alongside other megastar pop royalty including Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Camilla Cabello, and many more.
The most obvious references to the almost never-ending world tour come in 1000 Nights (featuring Meek Mills), which has quintessential Sheeran hallmarks, with his melodic rapping dancing over a heavily-compressed electro beat, as he delivers the lines “New York to London, different city every day,” in an almost monotone, deadbeat way.
Antisocial, with Travis Scott, shows a more fragile mental state for Sheeran, as he is evidently struggling with his level of fame with lines like, “Friday night and I’m riding solo/I don’t mess with that energy or photos,” and the pre-chorus, “I’ve been down/Give me some space/You don’t know what’s in my brain.”
There are a handful of tracks which are very UK-centric in their lyrics – most notably the staccato, string-led Stormzy collab Take Me Back To London, with the pair bouncing raps off each other from verse to verse, although it becomes clear that Ed’s rapping is far inferior to the recent Glastonbury headliner’s flow, as both channel their jetsetting lifestyle alongside grime culture in Britain.
None of these tracks are poor by any standard, with each offering a memorable chorus to anchor the song around, but at the same time, it’s quite often just par for the course. The songs that really shine are the ones where Sheeran takes a back seat, or completely controls the core of the song, like opener Beautiful People, featuring Khalid, which far outweighs any track from the American’s Free Spirit record from earlier this year.
South Of The Border, with Cabello and Cardi B, is equally strong, delving deep into the Latin-pop stylings that the former Fifth Harmony singer is renowned for. But it’s the mellow acoustic folk duet with Grammy-award-winning RnB/gospel singer Yebba, Best Part Of Me, which cuts through the most with its heart-wrenching, self-doubt-fuelled chorus, “She loves me/Why the hell she love me when you could have anyone else.”
The wheels do come off a little around the mid-way point. Remember The Name, featuring Eminem and 50 Cent, is a garish attempt at merging the old-school instrumentals of the former with the bling-era rhythms of the latter, which serves as more of a favour to legends past their peak than invigorating and highlighting their talents.
Feels meanwhile, aside from some quirky production tricks just before its abrupt ending, is a real stinker too, as rapper Young Thug aimlessly warbles throughout the detuned Caribbean hits with his signature autotune-heavy voice.
Once again, Sheeran reminds us of his knack for an earworm hook or vocal melody, but he stills fails to offer anything more than that.